Hands-on Gameful Design: Creating Autonomy

Concurrent Session 7

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

In this express workshop, participants will learn the principles of gameful design, strategize for how to integrate autonomy into a course as well as use a tool called GradeCraft designed specifically to support gameful courses.  

Sponsored By


Evan works with faculty, staff and students to integrate gameful pedagogies into teaching and learning. Her work bridges theory to practice by bringing together pedagogy to real world teaching applications. Supporting her work is her research in teacher education, innovation adoption and understanding the role of motivation and affect in learning and learning with technologies.
Rachel Niemer is the Director of Strategic Initiatives in the Office of Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan (U-M). In this role, Rachel coordinates the Product Management, Public Engagement, and Behavioral Science teams in their work as thought-partners with faculty. Rachel helps establish the vision for designing new and engaging learning environments using best practices from industry paired with findings from the learning and motivational sciences. Prior to joining the AI team, Rachel served as an Assistant Director at the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at U-M, where she specialized in health sciences educational development and instructional technology. Rachel has also taught pedagogy courses at the University of Rochester, where she was an Assistant Director of Learning Assistance Services. Previously Rachel was a chemistry instructor at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota and a postdoctoral scholar in pharmacology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Extended Abstract

As educators strive to find new ways to create meaningful and personalized learning experiences at scale, designers are looking outside the traditional classroom for inspiration.   Gameful course design is an instructional design practice grounded in self-determination theory that takes inspiration in what makes games motivating (Ryan & Deci, 2000).  In contrast to gamification, gameful focuses on the motivational structures rather than game mechanics.  By building autonomy, scaffolding competency and creating connections in the classroom, courses using gameful strategies encourage student effort, create pathways for student agency in learning as well as increase student engagement (Aguilar, Holman & Fishman, 2018, Jang, Kim & Reeve, 2016). 

One small step for going gameful is to integrate structured autonomy supportive assessment structures into a class.  While many instructors are familiar with the idea of giving choice in the topic of a paper building choice, it is a small step.  Giving students the ability to make choices about the method and weighting of their assessments presents opportunities for students to take ownership of their learning.   However, models of assessment like the cafeteria style or ala carte grading at any kind of scale may seem overwhelming for instructors and students alike (Arendt, Trego & Allred, 2016; Hanewicz, Platt, & Arendt, 2017).  

In this hands-on express workshop, we will introduce the concept of what it means to construct a gamefully designed course, focusing primarily on how to build choice and autonomy into the course design.  Using the tools developed at the University of Michigan for designing for autonomy, participants will have an opportunity to plan for a gameful segment of a class. We will also introduce an online tool called GradeCraft, which allows educators to build out categories of assignments that build up from zero and give students the constrained flexibility to make choices about how they are assessed, as well as provide options for other technologies to support gameful practices.  Finally, participants will receive some tips on how to explain gameful to their students.


Aguilar, S. J., Holman, C., & Fishman, B. J. (2018). Game-inspired design: Empirical evidence in support of gameful learning environments. Games and Culture, 13(1), 44-70. 

Arendt, A., Trego, A., & Allred, J. (2016). Students reach beyond expectations with cafeteria style grading. Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education8(1), 2–17. https://doi.org/10.1108/JARHE-03-2014-0048

Hanewicz, C., Platt, A., & Arendt, A. (2017). Creating a learner-centered teaching environment using student choice in assignments. Distance Education38(3), 273–287. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2017.1369349

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being, 55(1), 68–78.